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Chapter 12: The Fourth Rule - Repetition Is The Key To Spoken Mastery


You want to learn English and you want to speak it well RIGHT NOW. The problem is most language classes move too quickly for students to master material before moving onto something new. In this chapter, we'll focus on the fourth rule of Effortless English which advises you to take your time and learn deeply.

What does it mean to learn deeply? To learn deeply means to learn English to the point where speaking and understanding are automatic. Often people know a lot of English grammar and vocabulary, but they don't know it deeply. When it comes time to speak, they're translating vocabulary and analyzing tenses in their heads or struggling to understand the meaning of what someone is saying to them. Effortless English emphasizes training for mastery.

Deep learning means repeating what you have learned, again, and again. This might feel very different from the way you learned in school. Most schools have a lot of pressure to move fast. They're always pushing the students to learn more grammar or a certain number of new words every week. The teachers rely primarily on textbooks and try to finish them on schedule. The problem for students is that you learn a lot of stuff but then you forget it. Or you remember the basic idea, but you can't use it.

Take the past tense, for example. If you've studied English before, chances are you learned the past tense. Chances are also good that you studied it in a textbook and then BOOM very fast, you moved on. You went on to learn more grammar, possessives, the future tense, or the present perfect tense.

Now, if someone asks you if you know the past tense, you'd say, "of course." But the truth is you haven't mastered the past tense. You moved through the material so quickly that you never learned it deeply, like a native speaker. That's why you still make mistakes with the past tense. Even though you may have studied English for many years, you still make mistakes because it's not automatic. You haven't learned it deeply.

:: Master the Fundamentals

To better understand deep learning, once again let's look at the world of sports. Imagine, for example, a professional golfer. How does a professional golfer master the game and continue to improve?

The most important skill for a golfer to master is their swing. A professional will practice their swing five hundred times a day or more, every day. A good golfer never says, "OK, I already know how to swing, so now I need to do something else."

Golfers understand that the best way to master the game is to master a few fundamental skills. They practice these same few skills hundreds of times a day, for years and years — possibly for their entire lives.

Unfortunately, many English learners fail to understand the importance of deep learning. In my English classes, I frequently spent a long time repeating and reviewing the most common and most useful language. Sometimes a student would complain. They would say, for example, "I want to learn advanced grammar. I already know the past tense."

Yet, in a casual conversation, this same student frequently made mistakes with the past tense. He said "go" when he should have said "went." He didn't understand the difference between knowledge and skill.

Remember, knowledge is something you analyze and think about. Skill is something you do. Knowing the past tense is useless. You must be able to use the past tense instantly and automatically in real conversations. You need English skills, not English knowledge.

:: How To Learn Deeply

If this sounds familiar, don't despair. You can move much closer to your goal of speaking excellent English simply by adjusting the way you learn. You just need to slow down and repeat everything you learn again and again. For example, I tell members of my courses to repeat each lesson daily for at least seven days. This is the case even if they think they know it well after listening to it twice. If it's still difficult, I advise them to listen to the lesson daily for two, three, or even four weeks. Remember, it's not a race. The point is not to memorize, or recite the phrases back like a bird, but to truly deeply understand the phrases you are learning.

Often I get a question like this from a student: "A.J., can I learn two lessons in a week?" That's a good question. People want to go faster. They want to do more. I understand that. But if you ask any of my advanced students, they will all give you the same answer: No.

Why? Because deep learning is important. You need to repeat each audio every day for seven days. More is fine. Yes, 14 days is better, 30 days is even better than that. Less than seven won't get the job done. You won't be doing enough repetitions to have the material sink in deeply. It's challenging to pace yourself because I know many people think that faster is better. But it doesn't work that way. You need to repeat each audio at least once a day for seven days. You're doing this because you want your knowledge to go deeper and deeper. You are learning for mastery.

Julia, a student from Italy, at first had a hard time accepting this idea. She thought she would get bored and that it might be a waste of time. But she wanted to improve her English, so she was willing to try it. Over time, she says, she realized she had spent years learning English but not in a deep way. "When I studied the second lesson," she says, "I had already forgotten the first. "

These days, Julia sometimes listens to audio for an entire month before she moves on. "It's not hard work anymore," she says. "I've developed a way to listen and learn deeply and it has really helped my English."

So if you have an audio article or podcast, something you listen to and like, don't just listen to it once. One time is not enough. Five times is not enough. You should listen to that article, speech, whatever it is 30 times. Or perhaps 50 times, 100 times, or even more.

After you've learned the vocabulary, keep listening. Because knowing the vocabulary means that you can take the test and say the meaning, but when you hear it do you instantly understand it? Can you use it quickly, easily, and automatically? If the answer is no, you need to study it again, you need to listen to that same audio again. Many, many times. This is one of the secrets to speaking faster and to really learning grammar and using it correctly.

You are like the professional golfer who practices his swing hundreds of times per day. The golfer is always looking for ways to improve that same fundamental skill. The golfer realizes that mastery of the fundamentals is more important than a lot of advanced knowledge.

For example, you might listen to a story in the past tense over and over for two weeks. After that, you'll listen to another story for two weeks, and maybe another story in the past tense for the same length of time. You never stop. I am a native speaker and all my life I have been learning the past tense. I still listen to the past tense now, and I will as long as I live. I've heard the same common vocabulary words every day thousands and thousands of times and will continue to hear them. That has enabled me to use them quickly and automatically.

That's the secret. You never stop. You just need more repetition. Focus on the most common words, most common verbs, most common phrases through listening and then repeat, repeat, repeat. When you do that, you develop that "feeling for correctness" and will use English more naturally and automatically.

Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, "But won't I get bored listening to the same thing again and again?" Of course, this is possible. The best way to avoid boredom is to choose the material that is compelling to you. Compelling means "extremely

How do you find compelling content? One way is to learn about something you love, in English. For example, if you love romance novels in your own language, get them in English! Find easy romance audiobooks and listen to them every day. Find the text versions of the books, too, and read while you listen. If you love business, then learn about business in English. Use English as a means of learning other knowledge and other skills. The more you focus on this compelling content, the easier it will be to repeat it often. You'll enjoy hearing it again and again.

:: Deep Learning Practice

Exercise 1: Pick audio that's ten minutes long. This is going to be your main audio for the week. Listen to it a few times. Repeat this process every day for the next week. Really commit yourself to master it. The idea is you're not trying to memorize it, but rather to thoroughly know it. Imagine that each time you listen to and understand the audio, it is going deeper into your brain. It's like a seed you are planting in your mind. Plant it deep and water it with many repeated listenings.

After you have mastered the first audio, pick two additional audios. They should each be 5-20 minutes long. Listen to these in the same way as you did the first.

You will notice yourself going through different learning stages as you do this. Try to be conscious of these stages. The first will be, "Oh no, I don't understand." You may need to use a text for total understanding. You'll know you've hit the second stage when you can listen to the words and phrases without reviewing any of them. The third stage will be when you're hearing and easily understanding without the text. How long does it take you to get to the third stage? How does listening to longer audios affect your understanding?

How quickly will you progress and how many repetitions are required? Much of this will depend on your state of mind during the repetition. Are you relaxed? Energized? When I teach action vocabulary in seminars, students can often master new words and phrases in just a few minutes because they are moving and excited. Repetition with half-concentration and low energy is not as good as repetition with engaged emotional energy. So as you are repeating the audios, stand up, move around, and even shout the phrases to yourself. If you're feeling self-conscious, close your door and do this in your room until you get more comfortable with it.

Exercise 2: Select audio for listening practice. A common complaint I hear from students about deep learning is that they get bored listening to the same thing day after day. So in this exercise, every few days you're going to change your focus. On the first day, concentrate on just learning the vocabulary. On the next day, play a game where you're just trying to understand the audio completely without the text. A day later, play a sentence, pause the tape, and shout the sentence. Copy the speaker's rhythm, tone, and emotion. Work on your pronunciation. Next, try a game where you play two sentences and then repeat them loudly, with emotion. The next day, return to just listening and understanding. Basically, each day you shift your focus on the same material so that you learn from many different angles. The important thing is that each repetition you do has a purpose.

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:: AJ Hoge teacher





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